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Newbury Berkshire: West Berkshire Council to make £9m cuts

West Berkshire Council to make £9m cuts

A key government response has been to cut back on public spending. Local government is being asked to make a contribution to this, through reduced central government grants to local councils. For all councils this means a 28% reduction in grant over four years.
About a third of West Berkshire Council's income is from central government grant, most of the remainder coming from council tax.  This means a requirement to save some £28m over the next four years.
West Berkshire Council's response is publication of a draft four-year Council Strategy that prioritises key services - in line with wishes from local residents - recognising the imperative of working within our means. This is now out for public consultation and can be found at Responses are needed by 7 January.
The situation in planning for 2012-13 is made more difficult by increasing demands on our adult social care and services for people with learning disabilities, plus inflation of some 5%.  As a result, there is an unavoidable need to make savings of £9m on the current £125m budget.
This means some difficult decision-making. Last year we cut spending by around £8.2m, and a lot of that came from support services, or 'backroom' staff. This coming year's requirement - for even more than that - means there will inevitably be some effect on front-line services for residents, but all our efforts are on keeping that to a minimum wherever possible. The four-year Council Strategy will be used to guide where savings should be made in the future.
We have already identified a further £3m savings in staff, including management, which would mean the loss of 47 employees.  This is on top of the 120 redundancies made last year, which was almost 10% of our workforce.
We are aiming for a further £4m saving across all departments,  including support services. Details of these will be worked up over the coming months.
By far the greatest expenditure for the council is on services for vulnerable groups, much of it discretionary.  The current year's spending of £38m on social care for adults and those with learning disabilities being the prime example.  While remaining a priority for the Council those services, given the scale of expenditure, cannot remain immune from savings.  It is proposed to make around £2m savings here.  That said, over half of these would be through efficiencies or price reductions, not withdrawal of services.  So savings directly affecting vulnerable groups would be around £1m or less than 1% of the Council's current budget. Some of these are discretionary benefits, and we would be looking to voluntary groups to support and further help reduce costs.
Before any agreement on these proposals, it is important that the affect on vulnerable groups is fully understood. That is the reason the Council is putting forward these savings proposals now.
Over the coming weeks, the Council will be talking to representatives of these groups to understand the likely impacts of savings, to explore any possible alternatives, and to identify any mitigation measures put forward.
Within this process, it is important to note that the Council funds a number of voluntary groups, yet none of this funding is 'statutory'. The Council currently gives more than £3m to the voluntary sector.  The above savings represent only around 5% of that.
Once this process is complete, the Council will be in a position to draw up final budget proposals for the new year.
West Berkshire Council Leader, Graham Jones, said: "As a district we are well-placed to cope with some of the worst affects of the economic recession. However, the district council is duty bound to make its contribution to reducing the national deficit in line with demands of the coalition government. 
"Savings are unavoidable and difficult decisions are having to be made, but we believe we can meet this challenge through prudent financial management which will allow maintenance of the most important front-line services for local people."

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